Killing of ‘most wanted’ al-Qaeda linked Kashmir militant Thousands mourn

Kashmiri villagers carry the body of Zakir Musa, a top militant commander linked to al-Qaida, as it rains during his funeral procession in Tral, south of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Friday, May 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)

By Naveed Murtaza

Thousands have attended the funeral on Friday came out to mourn of a militant leader killed in Indian-administered Kashmir, as security forces cut internet access to stop his death becoming a flashpoint for protests.

Indian forces surrounded Zakir Musa on Thursday evening and blew up his hideout when he refused to surrender.

The influential 25-year-old, who was described as India’s most wanted man in Kashmir, split from one of the largest groups fighting Indian rule in Kashmir and declared his allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2017.

His killing immediately triggered protests, with fears they would stoke wider unrest in an area that three months ago took India and Pakistan to the brink of war.

Local media are calling Musa’s killing the “biggest victory” for the Indian armed forces since the death of Wani.

Similarly, Musa’s death has already triggered angry anti-India protests in the Muslim-majority state, Kashmir-based journalist Sameer Yasir told the BBC.

Authorities had cut off the internet on cell phones to try to curb protests and discourage dissemination of protest videos. They also imposed a curfew across much of the Kashmir Valley, including the main city of Srinagar, and ordered schools and colleges to remain closed.

But neither the preventative measures nor the security lockdown or torrential rain stopped thousands of people from attending his funeral or gathering in protest.

Musa joined Kashmir’s largest indigenous rebel group, Hizbul Mujahideen, in 2013 after dropping out of his engineering course.

But in mid-2017, an Al Qaeda-linked propaganda network said he became the head of an affiliated militant group, Ansar Ghawzat-ul-Hind, with less than a dozen others.

Kashmiri villagers watch the funeral procession of Zakir Musa, a top militant commander linked to al-Qaida, as it rains in Tral, south of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Friday, May 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)

Musa regularly issued audio messages mainly stressing that Kashmir’s struggle was for Islamic cause and had nothing to do with nationalism, highlighting a shift in ideology among some rebels in the region where militants have mainly fought for either independence of Indian-controlled Kashmir or merger with Pakistan.

He instantly became a media sensation, particularly with New Delhi-based television news channels using him to showcase that Kashmiri struggle for self-rule was part of a global militant agenda. Previously, no global jihadi groups have openly operated in Kashmir, a territory divided between India and Pakistan but claimed by both entirely. All Kashmir rebel groups rejected Musa and his Al Qaeda affiliate.

Wani’s death in 2016 sparked outrage in the territory and rekindled a militant movement that had withered in later years. More than 100 civilians died in violence after Wani’s death and Musa took his place.

However Musa then broke away to form Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind, which officials say was an offshoot of Al-Qaeda in Kashmir.

Musa regularly issued audio messages declaring Kashmir’s struggle was for the Islamic cause and had nothing to do with nationalism. The message reflected a shift in ideology for a region where militants have mainly fought for either the independence of Indian-administered Kashmir or a merger with Pakistan.

Kashmir has been at the heart of tensions between India and Pakistan since Independence in 1947. The former princely state is divided between the two by a heavily militarised line of control, but both claim the whole territory.

Rebel groups have been fighting against Indian rule since 1989. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the armed uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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